BY JACK LONDON
"The coral waxes, the palm
grows, but man departs."—Tahitian proverb.
AH CHO did not understand French. He sat in the crowded
court-room, very weary and bored, listening to the unceasing, explosive French
that now one official and now another uttered. It was just so much gabble to Ah
Cho, and he marvelled at the stupidity of the Frenchmen who took so long to
find out the murderer of Chung Ga, and who did not find him at all. The five
hundred coolies on the plantation knew that Ah San had done the killing, and
here was Ah San not even arrested. It was true that all the coolies had agreed
secretly not to testify against one another; but then, it was so simple, the
Frenchmen should have been able to discover that Ah San was the man. They were
very stupid, these Frenchmen.
Ah Cho had done nothing of which to be afraid. He
had had no hand in the killing. It was true he had been present at it, and
Schemmer, the overseer on the plantation, had rushed into the barracks
immediately afterward and caught him there, along with four or five others; but
what of that? Chung Ga had been stabbed only twice. It stood to reason that
five or six men could not inflict two stab-wounds. At the most, if a man had
struck but once, only two men could have done it.
So it was that Ah Cho reasoned, when he, along
with his four companions, had lied and blocked and obfuscated in their
statements to the court concerning what had taken place. They had heard the
sounds of the killing, and, like Schemmer, they had run to the spot. They had
got there before Schemmer—that was all. True, Schemmer had testified
that, attracted by the sound of quarrelling as he chanced by, he had stood for
at least five minutes outside; that then, when he entered, he found the
prisoners already inside; and that they had not entered just before, because he
had been standing by the one door to the barracks. But what of that? Ah Cho and
his four fellow prisoners had testified that Schemmer was mistaken. In the end
they would be let go. They were all confident of that. Five men could not have
their heads cut off for two stab-wounds. Besides, no foreign devil had seen the
killing. But these Frenchmen were stupid. In China, as Ah Cho well knew, the
magistrate would order all of them to the torture and learn the truth. The
truth was very easy to learn under torture. But these Frenchmen did not
torture—bigger fools they! Therefore they would never find out who killed
But Ah Cho did not understand everything. The
English Company that owned the plantation had imported into Tahiti, at great
expense, the five hundred coolies. The stockholders were clamoring for
dividends, and the Company had not yet paid any; wherefore the Company did not
want its costly contract laborers to start the practice of killing one another.
Also, there were the French, eager and willing to impose upon the Chinagos the
virtues and excellences of French law. There was nothing like setting an
example once in a while; and, besides, of what use was New Caledonia except to
send men to live out their days in misery and pain in payment of the penalty
for being frail and human?
Ah Cho did not understand all this. He sat in the
court-room and waited for the baffled judgment that would set him and his
comrades free to go back to the plantation and work out the terms of their
contracts. This judgment would soon be rendered. Proceedings were drawing to a
close. He could see that. There was no more testifying, no more gabble of
tongues. The French devils were tired, too, and evidently waiting for the
judgment. And as he waited he remembered back in his life to the time when he
had signed the contract and set sail in the ship for Tahiti. Times had been
hard in his seacoast village, and when he indentured himself to labor for five
years in the South Seas at fifty cents Mexican a day, he had thought himself
fortunate. There were men in his village who toiled a whole year for ten
dollars Mexican, and there were women who made nets all the year round for five
dollars, while in the houses of shopkeepers there were maid servants who
received four dollars for a year of service. And here he was to receive fifty
cents a day; for one day, only one day, he was to receive that princely sum!
What if the work were hard? At the end of the five years he would return
home—that was in the contract—and he would never have to work
again. He would be a rich man for life, with a house of his own, a wife, and
children growing up to venerate him. Yes, and back of the house he would have a
small garden, a place of meditation and repose, with goldfish in a tiny
lakelet, and wind-bells tinkling in the several trees, and there would be a
high wall all around so that his meditation and repose should be
Well, he had worked out three of those five
years. He was already a wealthy man (in his own country), through his earnings,
and only two years more intervened between the cotton plantation on Tahiti and
the meditation and repose that awaited him. But just now he was losing money
because of the unfortunate accident of being present at the killing of Chung
Ga. He had lain three weeks in prison, and for each day of those three weeks he
had lost fifty cents. But now the judgment would soon be given and he would go
back to work.
Ah Cho was twenty-two years old. He was happy and
good-natured, and it was easy for him to smile. While his body was slim in the
Asiatic way, his face was rotund. It was round, like the moon, and it
irradiated a gentle complacence and a sweet kindliness of spirit that was
unusual among his countrymen. Nor did his looks belie him. He never caused
trouble, never took part in wrangling. He did not gamble. His soul was not
harsh enough for the soul that must belong to a gambler. He was content with
little things and simple pleasures. The hush and quiet in the cool of the day
after blazing toil in the cotton field was to him an infinite satisfaction. He
could sit for hours gazing at a solitary flower and philosophizing about the
mysteries and riddles of being. A blue heron on a tiny crescent of sandy beach,
a silvery splatter of flying-fish, or a sunset of pearl and rose across the
lagoon, could entrance him to all forgetfulness of the procession of wearisome
days and of the heavy lash of Schemmer.
Schemmer, Karl Schemmer, was a brute, a brutish
brute. But he earned his salary. He got the last particle of strength out of
the five hundred slaves; for slaves they were until their term of years was up.
Schemmer worked hard to extract the strength from those five hundred sweating
bodies and to transmute it into bales of fluffy cotton ready for export. His
dominant, iron-clad, primeval brutishness was what enabled him to effect the
transmutation. Also, he was assisted by a thick leather belt, three inches wide
and a yard in length, with which he always rode and which, on occasion, could
come down on the naked back of a stooping coolie with a report like a
pistol-shot. These reports were frequent when Schemmer rode down the furrowed
Once, at the beginning of the first year of
contract labor, he had killed a coolie with a single blow of his fist. He had
not exactly crushed the man's head like an egg-shell, but the blow had been
sufficient to addle what was inside, and, after being sick for a week, the man
had died. But the Chinese had not complained to the French devils that ruled
over Tahiti. It was their own lookout. Schemmer was their problem. They must
avoid his wrath as they avoided the venom of the centipedes that lurked in the
grass or crept into the sleeping-quarters on rainy nights. The
Chinagos—such they were called by the indolent, brown-skinned island
folk—saw to it that they did not displease Schemmer too greatly. This was
equivalent to rendering up to him a full measure of efficient toil. That blow
of Schemmer's fist had been worth thousands of dollars to the Company, and no
trouble ever came of it to Schemmer.
The French, with no instinct for colonization,
futile in their childish play-game of developing the resources of the island,
were only too glad to see the English Company succeed. What matter of Schemmer
and his redoubtable fist? The Chinago that died? Well, he was only a Chinago.
Besides, he died of a sunstroke, as the doctor's certificate attested. True, in
all the history of Tahiti no one had ever died of sunstroke. But it was that,
precisely that, which made the death of this Chinago unique. The doctor said as
much in his report. He was very candid. Dividends must be paid, or else one
more failure would be added to the long history of failure in Tahiti.
There was no understanding these white devils. Ah
Cho pondered their inscrutableness as he sat in the court-room waiting the
judgment. There was no telling what went on at the back of their minds. He had
seen a few of the white devils. They were all alike—the officers and
sailors on the ship, the French officials, the several white men on the
plantation, including Schemmer. Their minds all moved in mysterious ways there
was no getting at. They grew angry without apparent cause, and their anger was
always dangerous. They were like wild beasts at such times. They worried about
little things, and on occasion could outtoil even a Chinago. They were not
temperate as Chinagos were temperate; they were gluttons, eating prodigiously
and drinking more prodigiously. A Chinago never knew when an act would please
them or arouse a storm of wrath. A Chinago could never tell. What pleased one
time, the very next time might provoke an outburst of anger. There was a
curtain behind the eyes of the white devils that screened the backs of their
minds from the Chinago's gaze. And then, on top of it all, was that terrible
efficiency of the white devils, that ability to do things, to make things go,
to work results, to bend to their wills all creeping, crawling things, and the
powers of the very elements themselves. Yes, the white men were strange and
wonderful, and they were devils. Look at Schemmer.
Ah Cho wondered why the judgment was so long in
forming. Not a man on trial had laid hand on Chung Ga. Ah San alone had killed
him. Ah San had done it, bending Chung Ga's head back with one hand by a grip
of his queue, and with the other hand, from behind, reaching over and driving
the knife into his body. Twice had he driven it in. There in the court-room,
with closed eyes, Ah Cho saw the killing acted over again—the squabble,
the vile words bandied back and forth, the filth and insult flung upon the
venerable ancestors, the curses laid upon unbegotten generations, the leap of
An San, the grip of the queue of Chung Ga, the knife that sank twice into his
flesh, the bursting open of the door, the irruption of Schemmer that drove the
rest into the corner, and the firing of the revolver that brought help to
Schemmer. Ah Cho shivered as he lived it over. One blow of the belt had bruised
his cheek, taking off some of the skin. Schemmer had pointed to the bruises
when, on the witness-stand, he had identified Ah Cho. It was only just now that
the marks had become no longer visible. That had been a blow. Half an inch
nearer the centre and it would have taken out his eye. Then Ah Cho forgot the
whole happening in a vision he caught of the garden of meditation and repose
that would be his when he returned to his own land.
He sat with impassive face, while the magistrate
rendered the judgment. Likewise were the faces of his four companions
impassive. And they remained impassive when the interpreter explained that the
five of them had been found guilty of the murder of Chung Ga, and that Ah Chow
should have his head cut off, Ah Cho serve twenty years in prison in New
Caledonia, Wong Li twelve years, and Ah Tong ten years. There was no use in
getting excited about it. Even Ah Chow remained expressionless as a mummy,
though it was his head that was to be cut off. The magistrate added a few
words, and the interpreter explained that Ah Chow's face having been most
severely bruised by Schemmer's strap had made his identification so positive
that, since one man must die, he might was well be that man. Also, the fact
that Ah Cho's face had been severely bruised, conclusively proving his presence
at the murder and his undoubted participation, had merited him the twenty years
of penal servitude. And down to the ten years of Ah Tong, the proportioned
reason for each sentence was explained. Let the Chinagos take the lesson to
heart, the Court said finally, for they must learn that the law would be
fulfilled in Tahiti though the heavens fell.
The five Chinagos were taken back to jail. They
were not shocked nor grieved. The sentences being unexpected was quite what
they were accustomed to in their dealings with the white devils. From them a
Chinago rarely expected more than the unexpected. The heavy punishment for a
crime they had not committed was no stranger than the countless strange things
the white devils did. In the several weeks that followed, Ah Cho several times
contemplated Ah Chow with mild curiosity. His head was to be cut off by the
guillotine that was being erected on the plantation. For him there would be no
declining years, no gardens of tranquility. Ah Cho philosophized and speculated
about life and death. As for himself, he was not perturbed. Twenty years were
merely twenty years. By that much was his garden removed from him—that
was all. He was young, and the patience of Asia was in his bones. He could wait
those twenty years, and by that time the heats of his blood would be assuaged
and he would be better fitted for that garden of calm delight. He thought of a
name for it; he would call it The Garden of the Morning Calm. He was made happy
all day by the thought, and he was inspired to devise a moral maxim on the
virtue of patience, which maxim proved a great comfort, especially to Wong Li
and Ah Tong. Ah Chow, however, did not care for the maxim. His head was to be
separated from his body in so short a time that he had no need for patience to
wait for that event. He smoked well, ate well, slept well, and did not worry
about the slow passage of time.
Cruchot was a gendarme. He had seen twenty years
of service in the colonies, from Nigeria and Senegal to the South Seas, and
those twenty years had not perceptibly brightened his dull mind. He was as
slow-witted and stupid as in his peasant days in the south of France. He knew
discipline and fear of authority, and from God down to the sergeant of
gendarmes the only difference to him was the measure of slavish obedience which
he rendered. In point of fact, the sergeant bulked bigger in his mind than God,
except on Sundays when God's mouthpieces had their say. God was usually very
remote, while the sergeant was ordinarily very close at hand.
Cruchot it was who received the order from the
Chief Justice to the jailer commanding that functionary to deliver over to
Cruchot the person of Ah Chow. Now, it happened that the Chief Justice had
given a dinner the night before to the captain and officers of the French
man-of-war. His hand was shaking when he wrote out the order, and his eyes were
aching so dreadfully that he did not read over the order. It was only a
Chinago's life he was signing away anyway. So he did not notice that he had
omitted the final letter in Ah Chow's name. The order read "Ah Cho,"
and, when Cruchot presented the order, the jailer turned over to him the person
of Ah Cho. Cruchot took that person beside him on the seat of a wagon, behind
two mules, and drove away.
Ah Cho was glad to be out in the sunshine. He sat
beside the gendarme and beamed. He beamed more ardently than ever when he noted
the mules headed south toward Atimaono. Undoubtedly Schemmer had sent for him
to be brought back. Schemmer wanted him to work. Very well, he would work well.
Schemmer would never have cause to complain. It was a hot day. There had been a
stoppage of the trades. The mules sweated. But it was Ah Cho that bore the heat
with the least concern. He had toiled three years under that sun on the
plantation. He beamed and beamed with such good nature that even Cruchot's
heavy mind was stirred to wonderment.
"You are very funny," he said at
Ah Cho nodded and beamed more ardently. Unlike
the magistrate, Cruchot spoke to him in the Kanaka tongue, and this, like all
the Chinagos and all foreign devils, Ah Cho understood.
"You laugh to much," Cruchot chided.
"One's heart should be full of tears on a day like this."
"I am glad to get out of the jail."
"Is that all?" The gendarme shrugged
"Is it not enough?" was the retort.
"Then you are not glad to have your head cut
Ah Cho looked at him in abrupt perplexity and
"Why, I am going back to Atimaono to work on
the plantation for Schemmer. Are you not taking me back to Atimaono?"
Cruchot stroked his long mustaches reflectively.
"Well, well," he said, finally, with a flick of this whip at the off
mull, "so you don't know?"
"Know what?" Ah Cho was beginning to
feel a vague alarm. "Won't Schemmer let me work for him any
"Not after to-day." Cruchot laughed
heartily. It was a good joke. "You see, you won't be able to work after
to-day. A man with his head off can't work, eh?" He poked the Chinago in
the ribs and chuckled.
Ah Cho maintained silence while the mules trotted
a hot mile. Then he spoke: "Is Schemmer going to cut off my
Cruchot grinned as he nodded.
"It is a mistake," said Ah Cho,
gravely. "I am not the Chinago that is to have his head cut off. I am Ah
Cho. The honorable judge has determined that I am to stop twenty years in New
The gendarme laughed. It was a good joke, this
funny Chinago trying to cheat the guillotine. The mules trotted through a
cocoanut grove and for half a mile beside the sparkling sea before Ah Cho spoke
"I tell you I am not Ah Chow. The honorable
judge did not say that my head was to go off."
"Don't be afraid," said Cruchot, with
the philanthropic intention of making it easier for his prisoner. "It is
not difficult to die that way." He snapped his fingers. "It is
quick—like that. It is not like hanging on the end of a rope and kicking
and making faces for five minutes. It is like killing a chicken with a hatchet.
You cut its head off, that is all. And it is the same with a man.
Pouf!—it is over. It doesn't hurt. You don't even think it hurts. You
don't think. Your head is gone, so you cannot think. It is very good. That is
the way I want to die—quick, ah, quick. You are lucky to die that way.
You might get leprosy and fall to pieces slowly, a finger at a time, and now
and again a thumb, also the toes. I knew a man who was burned by hot water. It
took him two days to die. You could hear him yelling a kilometre away. But you?
Ah! so easy! Chck!—the knife cuts your neck like that. It is finished.
The knife may even tickle. Who can say? Nobody who died that way ever came back
He considered this last an excruciating joke, and
permitted himself to be convulsed with laughter for half a minute. Part of his
mirth was assumed, but he considered it his humane duty to cheer up the
"But I tell you I am Ah Cho," the other
persisted. "I don't want my head cut off."
Cruchot scowled. The Chinago was carrying the
foolishness too far.
"I am not Ah Chow—" Ah Cho
"That will do," the gendarme
interrupted. He puffed up his cheeks and strove to appear fierce.
"I am not Ah Chow—" Ah Cho began
"Shut up!" bawled Cruchot.
After that they rode along in silence. It was
twenty miles from Papeete to Atimaono, and over half the distance as covered by
the time the Chinago again ventured into speech.
"I saw you in the court-room, when the
honorable judge sought after our guilt," he began. "Very good. And do
you remember that Ah Chow, whose head is to be cut off—do you remember
that he—Ah Chow—was a tall man? Look at me."
He stood up suddenly, and Cruchot saw that he was
a short man. And just as suddenly Cruchot caught a glimpse of a memory picture
of Ah Chow, and in that picture Ah Chow was tall. To the gendarme all Chinagos
looked alike. One face was like another. But between tallness and shortness he
could differentiate, and he knew he had the wrong man beside him on the seat.
He pulled up the mules abruptly, so that the pole shot ahead of them, elevating
"You see, it was a mistake," said Ah
Cho, smiling pleasantly.
But Cruchot was thinking. Already he regretted
that he had stopped the wagon. He was unaware of the error of the Chief
Justice, and he had no way of working it out; but he did know that he had been
given this Chinago to take to Atimaono and that it was his duty to take him to
Atimaono. What if he was the wrong man and they cut his head off? It was only a
Chinago when all was said, and what was a Chinago anyway? Besides, it might not
be a mistake. He did not know what went on in the minds of his superiors. They
knew their business best. Who was he to do their thinking for them? Once, in
the long ago, he attempted to think for them, and the sergeant had said:
"Cruchot, you are a fool! The quicker you know that, the better you will
get on. You are not to think; you are to obey and leave the thinking to your
betters." He smarted under the recollection. Also, if he turned back to
Papeete he would delay the execution at Atimaono, and if he were wrong in
turning back he would get a reprimand from the sergeant who was waiting for the
prisoner. And, furthermore, he would get a reprimand at Papeete as well.
He touched the mules with the whip and drove on.
He looked at his watch. He would be half an hour late as it was, and the
sergeant was bound to be angry. He put the mules into a faster trot. The more
Ah Cho persisted in explaining the mistake, the more stubborn Cruchot became.
The knowledge that he had the wrong man did not make his temper better. The
knowledge that it was through no mistake of his confirmed him in the belief
that the wrong he was doing was the right. And, rather than incur the
displeasure of the sergeant, he would willingly have assisted a dozen wrong
Chinagos to their doom.
As for Ah Cho, after the gendarme had struck him
over the head with the butt of the whip and commanded him in a loud voice to
shut up, there remained nothing for him to do but to shut up. The long ride
continued in silence. Ah Cho pondered the strange ways of the foreign devils.
There was no explaining them. What they were doing with him was of a piece with
everything they did. First they found guilty five innocent men, and next they
cut off the head of the man that they, in their benighted ignorance, had deemed
meritorious of no more than twenty years' imprisonment. And there was nothing
he could do. He could only sit idly and take what these lords of life measured
out to him. Once, he got in a panic, and the sweat upon his body turned cold;
but he fought his way out of it. He endeavored to resign himself to his fate by
remembering and repeating certain passages from the "Yin Chih Wen"
("The Tract of the Quiet Way"); but, instead, he kept seeing his
dream-garden of meditation and repose. This bothered him, until he abandoned
himself to the dream and sat in his garden listening to the tinkling of the
wind-bells in the several trees. And lo! sitting thus, in the dream, he was
able to remember and repeat the passages from the "Tract of the Quiet
So the time passed nicely until Atimaono was
reached and the mules trotted up to the foot of the scaffold, in the shade of
which stood the impatient sergeant. Beneath him on one side he saw assembled
all the coolies of the plantation. Schemmer had decided that the even would be
a good object-lesson, and so had called in the collies from the fields and
compelled them to be present. As they caught sight of Ah Cho they gabbled among
themselves in low voices. They saw the mistake; but they kept it to themselves.
The white devils had doubtlessly changed their minds. Instead of taking the
life of one innocent man they were taking the life of another innocent man. Ah
Chow or Ah Cho—what did it matter which? They could never understand the
white dogs any more than could the white dogs understand them. Ah Cho was going
to have his head cut off, but they, when their two remaining years of servitude
were up, were going back to China.
Schemmer had made the guillotine himself. He was
a handy man, and though he had never seen a guillotine, the French officials
had explained the principle to him. It was on his suggestion that they had
ordered the execution to take place at Atimaono instead of at Papeete. The
scene of the crime, Schemmer had argued, was the best possible place for the
punishment, and, in addition, it would have a salutary influence upon the
half-thousand Chinagos on the plantation. Schemmer had also volunteered to act
as executioner, and in that capacity he was now on the scaffold, experimenting
with the instrument he had made. A banana tree, of the size and consistency of
a man's neck, lay under the guillotine. Ah Cho watched with fascinated eyes.
The German, turning a small crank, hoisted the blade to the top of the little
derrick he had rigged. A jerk on a stout piece of cord loosed the blade and it
dropped with a flash, neatly severing the banana trunk.
"How does it work?" The sergeant,
coming out on top the scaffold, had asked the question.
"Beautifully," was Schemmer's exulting
answer. "Let me show you."
Again he turned the crank that hoisted the blade,
jerked the cord, and sent the blade crashing down on the soft tree. But this
time it went no more than two-thirds of the way through.
The sergeant scowled. "That will not
serve," he said.
Schemmer wiped the sweat from his forehead.
"What it needs is more weight," he announced. Walking up to the edge
of the scaffold, he called his orders to the blacksmith for a twenty-five-pound
piece of iron. As he stooped over to attach the iron to the broad top of the
blade, Ah Cho glanced at the sergeant and saw his opportunity.
"The honorable judge said that Ah Chow was
to have his head cut off," he began.
The sergeant nodded impatiently. He was thinking
of the fifteen-mile ride before him that afternoon, to the windward side of the
island, and of Berthe, the pretty half-caste daughter of Lafière, the
pearl-trader, who was waiting for him at the end of it.
"Well, I am not Ah Chow. I am Ah Cho. The
honorable jailer has made a mistake. Ah Chow is a tall man, and you see I am
The sergeant looked at him hastily and saw the
mistake. "Schemmer!" he called, imperatively. "Come
The German grunted, but remained bent over his
task till the chunk of iron was lashed to his satisfaction. "Is your
Chinago ready?" he demanded.
"Look at him," was the answer. "Is
he the Chinago?"
Schemmer was surprised. He swore tersely for a
few seconds, and looked regretfully across at the thing he had made with his
own hands and which he was eager to see work. "Look here," he said,
finally, "we can't postpone this affair. I've lost three hours' work
already out of those five hundred Chinagos. I can't afford to lose it all over
again for the right man. Let's put the performance through just the same. It is
only a Chinago."
The sergeant remembered the long ride before him,
and the pearl-trader's daugther, and debated with himself.
"They will blame it on Cruchot—if it
is discovered," the German urged. "But there's little chance of its
being discovered. Ah Chow won't give it away, at any rate."
"The blame won't lie with Cruchot
anyway," the sergeant said. "It must have been the jailer's
"Then let's get on with it. They can't blame
us. Who can tell one Chinago from another? We can say that we merely carried
out instructions with the Chinago that was turned over to us. Besides, I really
can't take all those coolies a second time away from their labor."
They spoke in French, and Ah Cho, who did not
understand a word of it, nevertheless knew that they were determining his
destiny. He knew, also, that the decision rested with the sergeant, and he hung
upon that official's lips.
"All right," announced the sergeant.
"Go ahead with it. He is only a Chinago."
"I'm going to try it once more, just to make
sure." Schemmer moved the banana trunk forward under the knife, which he
had hosted to the top of the derrick.
Ah Cho tried to remember maxims from "The
Tract of the Quiet Way." "Live in concord," came to him; but it
was not applicable. He was not going to live. He was about to die. No, that
would not do. "Forgive malice"—yes, but there was no malice to
forgive. Schemmer and the rest were doing this thing without malice. It was to
them merely a piece of work that had to be done, just as clearing the jungle,
ditching the water, and planting cotton were pieces of work that had to be
done. Schemmer jerked the cord, and Ah Cho forgot "The Tract of the Quiet
Way." The knife shot down with a thud, making a clean slice of the
"Beautiful!" exclaimed the sergeant,
pausing in the act of lighting a cigarette. "Beautiful, my
Schemmer was pleased at the praise.
"Come on, Ah Chow," he said, in the
"But I am not Ah Chow—" Ah Cho
"Shut up!" was the answer. "If you
open your mouth again I'll break your head."
The overseer threatened him with a clenched fist,
and he remained silent. What was the good of protesting? Those foreign devils
always had their way. He allowed himself to be lashed to the vertical board
that was the size of his body. Schemmer drew the buckles tight—so tight
that the straps cut into his flesh and hurt. But he did not complain. The hurt
would not last long. He felt the board tilting over in the air toward the
horizontal, and closed his eyes. And at that moment he caught a last glimpse of
his garden of meditation and repose. It seemed to him that he sat in the
garden. A cool wind was blowing, and the bells in the several trees were
tinkling softly. Also, birds were making sleepy noises, and from beyond the
high wall came the subdued sound of village life.
Then he was aware that the board had come to
rest, and from muscular pressures and tensions he knew that he was lying on his
back. He opened his eyes. Straight above him he saw the suspended knife blazing
in the sunshine. He saw the weight which had been added and noted that one of
Schemmer's knots had slipped. Then he heard the sergeant's voice in sharp
command. Ah Cho closed his eyes hastily. He did not want to see that knife
descend. But he felt it—for one great fleeting instant. And in that
instant he remembered Cruchot and what Cruchot had said. But Cruchot was wrong.
The knife did not tickle. That much he knew before he ceased to know.
From the July, 1909 issue of Harper's Monthly Magazine.
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